Migrants and Refugees in Spain


MADRID, Spain — In past years, one of the most popular routes taken by migrants and refugees was using Libya as a disembarkation point to cross the Mediterranean and sail toward Italy. However, due to attempts by both Libya and Italy to prevent the flow of refugees and migrants into Europe, traveling from Morocco to Spain has become a more popular route in 2018. Spain is not better equipped to handle this influx of refugees and migrants, so their future in the country is unclear as there are disagreements about what needs to be done.

Refugees Worldwide

With 25.4 million refugees worldwide, Europe has been an increasingly popular destination for the displaced. Some of the ones from Africa and the Middle East choose to leave their countries also due to widespread poverty and lack of opportunities. They believe that Europe will lead to a more successful life. The journey is difficult and very few succeed. Migrants arriving in Spain are mainly from Guinea, Morocco, Mali, the Ivory Coast, Syria and the Gambia.

Migrants and refugees caught in Libya are detained in camps. Even if they do manage to reach the coast and purchase passage across the sea, many of them die at sea and the ones who do reach Italy are turned away. In fact, Interior Minister Matteo Salvini, a right-wing nationalist, has ensured that Italy no longer allows refugee ships to land on their shores. As more refugees and migrants have become aware of the dangers of traveling through Libya and the near impossibility of reaching Italy, Spain has become a popular alternative.

Reasons for Migrants and Refugees in Spain

As of August 2018, Spain has seen the arrival of 23,048 migrants and refugees while only 18,645 have traveled to Italy. In previous years, the number of arrivals in Italy has been much higher with 119,310 in 2017 and 181,436 in 2016. In contrast, migrants and refugees in Spain totaled 22,108 in 2017 and only 8,162 in 2016.

In September 2018, Morocco requested support from the EU as its leaders are unable to stop the influx of migrants on their own. Morocco’s attempt to contain the problem by allowing over 50,000 migrants to stay has also been unsuccessful as the nation was already facing high unemployment. Many Moroccans are now looking for ways to reach Europe in search of better opportunities.

There is also a growing perception that Spain is more accepting of migrants and refugees. This stems in part from the decision made in June 2018 by Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez to take in 630 refugees and migrants from a rescue ship that both Italy and Malta had turned away.

Increasing Influx of Displaced People and Potential Solutions

Despite appearing more open, migrants and refugees in Spain are also facing increased difficulties. While Spain is allowing them to come ashore and receive aid from the Red Cross, they are only allowed to stay in temporary holding centers and given 45 days to leave. They can claim asylum, but the legal process is difficult and often inaccessible.

Spain has also been accused of carrying out express deportations, particularly with African migrants who are sometimes returned to Morocco for processing. Some manage to stay by finding illegal work on farms or in the cities or by moving in with families there. Building a life in these circumstances is often difficult. While Europe may seem like a paradise to outsiders, life for the displaced people may not be much easier than before.

African Migrants in Spain

Ousmann Umar, an African migrant who has built a successful life for himself in Spain, believes only one percent of migrants and refugees in Spain have a chance of becoming successful there, provided they manage to make it to Europe at all. In addition to the difficulties he faced along the journey, he struggled initially due to illiteracy and relied greatly on the support of a Spanish foster family.

Due to these experiences, Umar encourages African migrants to stay in their countries and believes in training Africans in computer skills to help them grow their economies. Conservative leader Pablo Casado made similar claims in August 2018, telling The Times that he supports investing in African countries in order to reduce the influx of migrants.


The Council of Europe has called upon Spain to ensure the conditions within migrant-holding centers are humane and also stressed the need for more permanent solutions. In fact, Spain’s new foreign minister, Josep Borrell, is committed to working with the EU to find a permanent, viable solution to this problem.

Sara Olk

Photo: Flickr


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